Human Rights First expressed concern over reports that no senior State Department official, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, will participate in a public launch of this year’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016. Traditionally, the annual submission to Congress of the Human Rights Report is accompanied by a public unveiling, including remarks from the Secretary of State or other senior official. Secretary Tillerson’s decision to abandon this longstanding practice is indicative of a broader trend of tabling support for human rights as an essential pillar of in U.S. foreign policy.
“Today’s decision by Secretary Tillerson to break with bipartisan tradition and forego a public, senior-level rollout of the Human Rights Reports is yet another troubling indication that the Trump Administration intends to abandon U.S. leadership on human rights and universal values,” said Human Rights First’s Senior Vice President for Policy Rob Berschinski, who formerly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. “Such a decision sends an unmistakable signal to human rights defenders that the United States may no longer have their back, a message that won’t be lost on abusive governments.”
The Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, commonly known as the Human Rights Report, indexes abuses and advances in terms of individual, civil, political, and worker rights globally. The report is widely regarded as a powerful tool to hold human rights violators accountable and to document the progress of nations towards respecting the dignity of their citizens. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) criticized the secretary’s move on social media, calling on the State Department to reconsider.
“Secretary Tillerson is right to say that ‘Our values are our interests’—a point that has been notably lacking in remarks from President Trump,” added Berschinski. “Unfortunately, this declaration rings less true when he and other senior administration officials decide that they don’t have time to publicly defend those same values.”
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